By David Brand
The Queens County Democratic Party leadership looked outside their home borough in the race for Public Advocate, endorsing Manhattan Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell ahead of the Feb. 26 special election. Several members say they are angry with the opaque process that led to the endorsement.
O’Donnell was first elected to the legislature in 2002, becoming the first openly gay assemblymember. He championed the state’s landmark Marriage Equality Act, which became state law in 2011.
“The Public Advocate race is a crowded field but I can tell you right now there’s no better choice than Danny O’Donnell,” said Queens County Democratic Party chairperson Joseph Crowley in an email soliciting donations for O’Donnell’s campaign. “Danny is already an advocate for LGBTQ New Yorkers, for women, for people of color, and for the working families across our city. As New York's Public Advocate, he'll have the chance to do so much more.”
Queens Assemblymember Ron Kim is also running for public advocate, as are Republican Councilmember Eric Ulrich of Ozone Park and investigative reporter Nomiki Konst of Astoria.
The Queens Democrats made their endorsements during a meeting of the executive committee, which includes 72 district leaders and 10 at-large seats selected by the party executives. Not all members were in attendance at the meeting, at which the party also endorsed Melinda Katz for district attorney and designated four candidates for Civil Court seats.
Queens County Democratic Party spokesperson Michael Reich did not respond to requests for comment about the O’Donnell endorsement.
The executive committee meeting frustrated several members of the party’s County Committee who said they felt excluded from the endorsement process.
“We call on the Executive Committee of the Queens County Democratic Party to explain its endorsement process,” said New Queens Democrats (NQD) in a statement criticizing the Katz endorsement. “Party leadership has the power to bypass the County Committee whenever it pleases, and it uses this power routinely.”
A spokesperson for NQD, which includes several members of the County Committee, told the Eagle that the members were tired of the party’s “Tammany Hall habits.”
“If the Queens County Democrats want their endorsements to be taken seriously by the people of Queens, party leadership needs to recognize that convening a few District Leaders behind closed doors simply doesn't suffice,” the NQD spokesperson said. “The Queens County Democratic County Committee has about 2,700 seats, of which about 2,100 are filled, many by grassroots activists who petitioned for the opportunity to represent their neighbors in important decisions like this. Party leaders chose to exclude these local activists from the process in endorsing Melinda Katz for Queens District Attorney and Danny O'Donnell for Public Advocate.”
NQD has endorsed Konst for public advocate but said it is concerned with the party leadership’s endorsement process.
“We call on the candidates to reject these hollow endorsements and call for a more inclusive process,” the NQD spokesperson continued. “We call on the party to work proactively and in good faith to create a more inclusive process that engages County Committee members in these decisions. We call on the members of the Democratic clubs of Queens to refuse to mobilize on behalf of candidates endorsed in this way, and to push for the establishment at their clubs of endorsement processes that represent the expressed will of the membership, not of a few party leaders,” the NQD spokesperson said. “For too long, Queens County Democratic Party leaders have operated in darkness, controlling the machinery of our democracy from behind the scenes and expecting the people to just accept their decisions without any questions. That era is over. It's time we brought the Queens Democratic Party into the 21st century by stamping out the last remnants of its Tammany Hall habits.”
County Committee member Peter Beadle, of AD28, ED56, said he is also “deeply disappointed” that district leaders did not consult Queens County Democratic Committee members before voting on designations for District Attorney and Public Advocate. Beadle is not a member of the NQD.
“This isn't about the worthiness of the individuals, but the continued failure of County Leadership to be transparent in its actions, and to function as a truly democratic organization,” Beadle said. “There should be no endorsements in primaries, regardless of what the party's bylaws might allow. The very purpose of a primary is for party members to have their voices heard on who they want. It is a deeply flawed system when party leadership puts their thumb on the scale in this way.”